A state of chaos
George Bush has purged the last of his father's senior advisers, handing over control to his neocon allies
The transition to President Bush's second term, filled with backstage betrayals, plots and pathologies, would make for an excellent chapter of I, Claudius. To begin with, Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgement dumped Brent Scowcroft, his father's closest associate and friend, as chairman of the foreign intelligence advisory board. The elder Bush's national security adviser was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration.
At the same time the vice president, Dick Cheney, has imposed his authority over secretary of state designate Condoleezza Rice, in order to blackball Arnold Kanter, former under secretary of state to James Baker and partner in the Scowcroft Group, as a candidate for deputy secretary of state.
"Words like 'incoherent' come to mind," one top state department official told me about Rice's effort to organise her office. She is unable to assert herself against Cheney, her wobbliness a sign that the state department will mostly be sidelined as a power centre for the next four years.
Rice may have wanted to appoint as a deputy her old friend Robert Blackwill, whom she had put in charge of Iraq at the NSC. But Blackwill, a mercurial personality, allegedly assaulted a female US foreign service officer in Kuwait, and was forced to resign in November. Secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, presented the evidence against Blackwill to Rice. "Condi only dismissed him after Powell and Armitage threatened to go public," a state department source said.
Meanwhile, key senior state department professionals, such as Marc Grossman, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, have abruptly resigned. According to colleagues who have chosen to remain (at least for now), they foresee the damage that will be done as Rice is charged with whipping the state department into line with the White House and Pentagon neocons. Rice has pleaded with Armitage to stay on, but "he colourfully said he would not", a state department official told me. Rice's radio silence when her former mentor, Scowcroft, was defenestrated was taken by the state department professionals as a sign of things to come.
Bush has long resented his father's alter ego. Scowcroft privately rebuked him for his Iraq follies more than a year ago - an incident that has not previously been reported. Bush "did not receive it well", said a friend of Scowcroft.
In A World Transformed, the elder Bush's 1998 memoir, co-authored with Scowcroft, they explained why Baghdad was not seized in the first Gulf war: "Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." In the run-up to the Iraq war, Scowcroft again warned of the danger. Bush's conservative biographers Peter and Rachel Schweizer, quoted the president as responding: "Scowcroft has become a pain in the ass in his old age." And they wrote: "Although he never went public with them, the president's own father shared many of Scowcroft's concerns."
The rejection of Kanter is a compound rejection of Scowcroft and of James Baker - the tough, results-oriented operator who as White House chief of staff saved the Reagan presidency from its ideologues, managed the elder Bush's campaign in 1988, and was summoned in 2000 to rescue Junior in Florida. In his 1995 memoir, Baker observed that the administration's "overriding strategic concern in the [first] Gulf war was to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonisation of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare."
In private, Baker is scathing about the current occupant of the White House. Now the one indispensable creator of the Bush family political fortunes is repudiated.
Republican elders who warned of endless war are purged. Those who advised Bush that Saddam was building nuclear weapons, that with a light military force the operation would be a "cakewalk", and that capturing Baghdad was "mission accomplished", are rewarded.
The outgoing secretary of state, fighting his last battle, is leaking stories to the Washington Post about how his advice went unheeded. Secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, whose heart beats with the compassion of a crocodile, clings to his job by staging Florence Nightingale-like tableaux of hand-holding of the wounded while declaiming into the desert wind about "victory". Since the election, 203 US soldiers have been killed and 1,674 wounded.
Sidney Blumenthal was a former senior adviser to President Clinton